Back Channel: A novel

Back Channel: A novel

4.5 2
by Stephen L. Carter
     
 

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October 1962. The Soviet Union has smuggled missiles into Cuba. Kennedy and Khrushchev are in the midst of a military face-off that could lead to nuclear conflagration. Warships and submarines are on the move. Planes are in the air. Troops are at the ready. Both leaders are surrounded by advisers clamoring for war. The only way for the two leaders to negotiate safely…  See more details below

Overview

October 1962. The Soviet Union has smuggled missiles into Cuba. Kennedy and Khrushchev are in the midst of a military face-off that could lead to nuclear conflagration. Warships and submarines are on the move. Planes are in the air. Troops are at the ready. Both leaders are surrounded by advisers clamoring for war. The only way for the two leaders to negotiate safely is to open a “back channel”—a surreptitious path of communication hidden from their own people. They need a clandestine emissary nobody would ever suspect. If the secret gets out, her life will be at risk . . . but they’re careful not to tell her that.

Stephen L. Carter’s gripping new novel, Back Channel, is a brilliant amalgam of fact and fiction—a suspenseful retelling of the Cuban Missile Crisis, in which the fate of the world rests unexpectedly on the shoulders of a young college student.

On the island of Curaçao, a visiting Soviet chess champion whispers state secrets to an American acquaintance.

In the Atlantic Ocean, a freighter struggles through a squall while trying to avoid surveillance.

And in Ithaca, New York, Margo Jensen, one of the few black women at Cornell, is asked to go to Eastern Europe to babysit a madman.

As the clock ticks toward World War III, Margo undertakes her harrowing journey. Pursued by the hawks on both sides, protected by nothing but her own ingenuity and courage, Margo is drawn ever more deeply into the crossfire—and into her own family’s hidden past.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
06/15/2014
Yale law professor and best-selling novelist Carter (e.g., The Emperor of Ocean Park) blends fact and fiction in this story of 19-year-old Margo Jensen, a black Cornell sophomore, who holds the fate of the world in her hands when she finds herself the "back channel" liaison between Soviet Premier Khrushchev and President Kennedy during the Cuban missile crisis. Billed as mystery but clearly of broad interest; with a reading group guide.
Publishers Weekly
06/30/2014
In the prologue of Carter’s intriguing what-if thriller, Margo Jensen, a bright 19-year-old Cornell student, meets privately in Washington, D.C., with President Kennedy, who is trying to navigate the Cuban Missile Crisis without triggering nuclear war. Earlier that fall, Margo became involved in a covert intelligence operation through a brilliant Cornell professor of hers, Lorenz Niemeyer, who’s an expert on Conflict Theory. Margo learns that a Russian chess champion, Vasily Smyslov, has alerted the U.S. to a surprise Soviet move in Cuba. The only way to get more details from Smyslov is to send an American counterpart, Bobby Fischer, to Russia to sound him out, and Fischer will only go if Margo, whom he considers to be a good-luck charm, accompanies him. Carter (The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln) makes this audacious premise convincing and manages to build suspense around a historical event with a known outcome. Author tour. (Aug.)
Kirkus Reviews
2014-06-16
Mutually assured destruction meets the dawning civil rights era in legal scholar/novelist Carter’s (Yale Law School;The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln, 2012, etc.) latest novel.Margo Jensen constantly has to prove herself, especially when she’s seated before someone like professor Niemeyer, who, though fearsome, teaches a course on conflict theory that is “among the most popular on the Cornell campus.” Margo, as her name suggests, is a woman, which lowers her categorically in the professor’s estimation. She's also African-American, which seems not to faze him, certainly not when he helps recruit her to the cause of a nation scrambling to keep up with and beat the Soviets. So it is that Margo jets off to Bulgaria, where she runs afoul of the security apparatus but proves herself sturdy enough to serve as a very much behind-the-scenes intermediary between president and premier, world leaders tasked not just with running their respective countries, but also containing the war factions that clamor for a showdown. Carter is particularly successful at creating an atmosphere of nearly oppressive suspense: As the story unfolds, everyone, it seems, is implicated, even the snotty BMOC who pesters Margo to test the mattresses in the fallout shelter with him. And despite the unlikeliness of the scenario—half a century ago, an African-American traveling either behind the Iron Curtain or outside the kitchen of the White House would attract more attention than Margo does—Carter does a very good job of placing the reader as fly on the wall. We’re treated to all kinds of spectacles from that viewpoint, from Bobby Kennedy clashing with Curtis LeMay to spy vs. spy action in the field (“Ainsley hit him hard in the groin and, as he doubled over, harder in the chin”) that features a welcome veteran ofother Carter adventures.The tale grinds too slowly at turns and runs a touch too long, but Carter delivers a satisfying historical thriller with some nice cliffhanging moments.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780385349611
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
07/29/2014
Sold by:
Random House
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
464
Sales rank:
134,354
File size:
3 MB

Meet the Author

Stephen L. Carter is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Yale University, where he has taught since 1982. He is also the author of seven books of nonfiction.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
Connecticut
Date of Birth:
October 26, 1954
Place of Birth:
Washington, D.C.
Education:
B.A. Stanford University, 1976; J.D., Yale Law School, 1979

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Back Channel: A novel 4.5 out of 5 based on 1 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is one of the best speculative fiction novels I've read.